Whither Throbbin' Robin after the Lords reform debacle? After every option for change had been rejected, the general verdict among MPs was that the Leader of the Commons, Robin Cook, had tried too hard. Not only did he set himself up against the PM, he allowed his shadow whips to browbeat Labour backbenchers into supporting an elected second chamber. Graham Allen and Fiona Mactaggart warned supporters of Tony Blair's plan for an appointed Lords that they would be seen as Downing Street poodles. The campaign boomeranged, and it could get worse. Ministers and backbenchers share a dislike of working at Westminster in the mornings, and more than 50 MPs have signed an early day motion criticising the new parliamentary hours. Though the new "working" week came in only at the beginning of the year, the Speaker is ready to allow an early review if more than a hundred MPs sign up to the mutiny. Jaunty Cookie may lose more than the vote. His job is on the line. (See John Kampfner, page 29)
John Reid instructed me not to use this snippet, but it deserves a wider audience. Asked a particularly long-tailed hypothetical question about war against Iraq, Bomber Reid snapped: "I'm the chairman of the Labour Party, not the fucking Wizard of Oz."
So, it will not be Shahid Malik MP. The pushy member of Labour's National Executive Committee, who has been touting himself as heir apparent to Peter Pike in Burnley, has been stuffed by party bosses. They have imposed a women-only shortlist on the constituency. What a delicious irony it would be if an Asian woman won the nomination!
Kay Carberry, the new TUC assistant general secretary, reacted with fury when Kevin Maguire of the Guardian pointed out that both she and Frances O'Grady, due to become deputy general secretary, are single parents. Maguire further mentioned that the father of Carberry's child once had an intimate relationship with Peter Mandelson, the twice-disgraced ex-minister. Carberry gave Maguire both barrels down the telephone for reminding the world of this fact. Why? The boy must now be a grown man, needing no defence. It must therefore be presumed that she wants to expunge Mandelson from her past. He was sacked from the TUC in 1978 and, strictly speaking, should be described as thrice-disgraced. Ah, now I understand.
The new Sexual Offences Bill is causing a stir in the Commons tearoom. The transport minister John Spellar and Tommy McAvoy, senior whip, expressed their disgust over the explicit notes to the legislation, which describe acts in private that they could scarcely stomach (if that is the right word). Appropriately, copies of the bill are kept on the top shelf of the Vote Office.
Lord (Bernard) Donoughue, Jim Callaghan's bagman, has finally written his memoirs, to be published in April by Politico's. I wonder how revelatory they will be. Will they, for instance, disclose the circumstances in which Donoughue was fired from the Times, where he was leader writer and odd-job man for the overhyped editor Harry Evans? As Father of the NUJ chapel at the time, I was involved in his demand for compensation, but the case was taken out of my hands in circumstances that remain a mystery to this day.
Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Daily Mirror